“Over the life of the Bush administration, they saw a major breakthrough with India on this nuclear deal and major shifts in the nature of government-to-government interactions with India,” said Mr. Markey. “Most people that I’ve talked to on the Obama side are more inclined to see the next period with India as one of consolidating those gains and maybe pushing ahead on some things that are more economic. But it is not by any stretch the priority, really, that Pakistan is.”
This, theoretically, is where Mrs. Clinton could help.
“She’s a known quantity,” said Nicholas Platt, a former ambassador to Pakistan under George H. W. Bush and the president emeritus of the Asia Society in New York. “She’s known in the area. She’s got stature.”
Mr. Platt said that the Clinton name was especially popular in the region because Bill Clinton, when he was president, had taken steps to improve relations with India and worked to defuse tensions between the two nuclear powers.
Together with Mrs. Clinton at the press conference on Dec. 1, Mr. Obama dismissed their old disagreements as campaign hyperbole and argued for a foreign policy that “skillfully uses, balances and integrates all elements of American power.”
After the attacks in Mumbai, which are suspected to be the work of the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, advisers to Mr. Obama said he intended to seize on the tragedy as an opportunity to apply pressure on Pakistan to work with India and the United States and to abandon the extremist elements they have created, nurtured and deployed in the past to further their foreign policy goals.
With Pakistan’s cooperation, India could respond with concessions to help resolve the Kashmir question. Pakistan could turn its military attention to Afghanistan, and the United States could begin injecting cash for health care, education and nation-building projects that would eventually serve to make Pakistan less dangerous and radical and nuclear.
But that is clearly a very best-case scenario.
“We should not be delusional that doing chummy things that are welcomed in that part of the world will get them to make the concessions or the hard decisions that we would like,” said Les Gelb, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He added that Pakistanis consider India a much greater threat than the Taliban, and “we’re not going to make that go away by providing more Pakistanis with refrigerators.”
Among the other problems for Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton will be that they don’t have an obvious interlocutor in Pakistan. The new democratically elected government has made helpful statements (“We must all stand together to fight out this menace,” Mr. Zardari told the Financial Times), but exercises little control over the Pakistani military or intelligence.
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, for example, has trained and supported Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Militant groups widely believed to have links to the agency have perpetrated attacks against the Indian Parliament and the Indian embassy in Afghanistan.
The view among many Pakistan experts is that the Pakistani military prefers an unstable Afghanistan because that keeps it less susceptible to Indian influence.
Some experts warn that unrealistic demands on Mr. Zardari will only weaken him and pave the way for yet another military coup or, nightmarishly, hasten the failure of a nuclear-armed state.
Meanwhile, across the eastern border, Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, is under pressure to make a show of anger toward Pakistan, especially given upcoming elections in the spring in which an emboldened Hindu nationalist opposition is strongly favored.